Runaways a big problem in Tampa Bay

Investigators worried about missing Pasco girl

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Jamie Lee was last seen September 4 leaving Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Spring Hill.

She has run away before, but always came back to her parents.

"My biggest fear is that she may not be safe, that somebody could be holding her against her will," said Jamie's mother Gretchen Lee.

"We want her to come home. And if somebody is holding her, hopefully they'll let her go," said Jamie's father James Lee.

Detective David Boyer leads the missing person unit for the Pasco Sheriff's Office. He says last year they took 559 runaway reports.  42 cases are open right now, including Jamie's.  And he says there are many reasons to be worried about her safety.

"Often children turn to adults and some of these adults exploit those children either through sex or drugs or other criminal activities," said Boyer.

There are much safer options for those who choose to run away. Shelter like the RAP House  in New Port Richey are all around Tampa Bay. And they provide a safe haven for troubled kids.

RAP stands for Runaway Alternative Project. They take in foster kids, homeless children, and yes, runaways. They say young people who leave their families put themselves in a very dangerous situation.

"And I don't think most kids realize when they make that choice what it really is going to be until they are out there on their own," said Prevention Services Vice President Andrew Coble.

Jamie's parents say they especially concerned about her well being because she hasn't reached out to anyone she knows. Not her friends or her family.

"As a father I feel like I let her down because I could have reached out and been more involved with her and I wasn't," said James Lee.

Investigators hope someone will recognize Jamie Lee. And believe she may be staying somewhere in St. Petersburg or Clearwater.

Here's a link to Jamie's case on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website:

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